The Magic of Boundaries: Date Well, Marry the Right Person, and Love Hard Forever

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line in the sand
Establish boundaries. When someone knowingly crosses them? Say bye. Because life is too short. (Image/

Yep. We’re talking about boundaries again. They’re THAT important.

Because I’m a hack writer (or possibly just because every single person on earth hasn’t read or doesn’t remember all of my posts), our conversations about boundaries are getting gray and cloudy like a sucky winter day in Cleveland.

And that’s bad. Because boundaries are magical. Like when the sun comes out during the rain and gifts you a sweet rainbow to frolic on, or how God doesn’t strike me dead when I order groceries online and an underpaid high school kid loads them in my Jeep for me curbside while elsewhere deserving people starve.

The best thing I’ve ever read on boundaries was written by Mark Manson (who coincidentally released a new book this week AND graciously agreed to a Q&A with me which you should obviously read).

For the 90 percent of you who won’t read Mark’s piece, I’m going to share a small part because it’s really important. From Mark:

“Let’s do the ‘You Might Have A Boundary Issue If…’ list so you know where you stand:

  • Do you ever feel like people take advantage of you or use your emotions for their own gain?
  • Do you ever feel like you’re constantly having to ‘save’ people close to you and fix their problems all the time?
  • Do you find yourself sucked into pointless fighting or debating regularly?
  • Do you find yourself faaaaar more invested or attracted to a person than you should be for how long you’ve known them?
  • In your relationships, does it feel like things are always either amazing or horrible with no in-between? Or perhaps you even go through the break-up/reunion pattern every few months?
  • Do you tell people how much you hate drama but seem to always be stuck in the middle of it?
  • Do you spend a lot of time defending yourself for things you believe aren’t your fault?

“If you answered ‘yes’ to even a few of the above, then you probably set and maintain poor boundaries in your relationships. If you answered a resounding ‘yes’ to most or all of the items above, you not only have a major boundary problem in your relationships, but you also probably have some other personal problems going on in your life.”

If you’re like me, you nodded your head ‘yes’ a few too many times because it hits a little too close to home, or because you remember how the younger you did all those things and maybe that’s why many shitty things happened.

Boundaries are about Emotional Health.

Emotionally healthy people have and enforce strong boundaries. And ALSO, having and enforcing strong boundaries makes you emotionally healthier.

Having strong boundaries means you don’t take responsibility for other people’s crap, and you ALWAYS take responsibility for your own.

I believe we must vigilantly enforce our boundaries (and respect others’ vigilantly enforced boundaries) in order to have high-functioning, healthy, mutually beneficial, and ultimately successful, human relationships.

And what that means is, when people knowingly violate our boundaries, we need to be willing to walk away and cut them out of our lives, which is a really hard thing to do. Because sometimes it’s your spouse, or a parent, or a sibling, or an old friend, or a co-worker, or someone you share children with.

You can’t always just walk away from people to enforce boundaries without innocents (like your kids or other family members or friends) becoming casualties of the decision.

One thing we can be sure of is that if we’re in such a spot, it’s because at some time in our past, we failed to enforce our boundaries in healthy ways, and later we suffer the consequences.

We’ll leave the family and friendship drama for another time.

For now, I’m focused exclusively on enforcing boundaries while dating. And then later, during marriage.


Let’s talk about why.

The Magic of Dating Boundaries

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Girl meets Boy. It’s all flowers and Facebook status changes and sexting and orgasms.

But then Hedonic Adaptation does what it ALWAYS does, and the lovey-dovey stuff wears off for the Boy.

Boy starts behaving differently. Communicating infrequently. Spending more time with friends or maybe other girls.

Boy’s behavior makes her feel bad. She tells her friends and her diary, but she doesn’t tell the Boy.

Eventually, things get more serious.

Meal planning, domestic housework, calendar scheduling, and sharing resources comes more into play.

Boy’s behavior forces Girl to take on lion’s share of that work because he’s totally disengaged outside of their date-ish time together.

Girl finally tells Boy that she’s upset, either because he finally asks her what’s wrong, or because she works up the courage to say something even though she’s afraid of the potential fight or making him feel smothered and pushing him away.

Boy tells her she’s delusional. That she’s imagining things. That she’s crazy. “OF COURSE I love you!” he says.

But no matter how much he tells her she’s being overly emotional or misreading the situation, she continues to feel sad and anxious about his behavior. He says her feelings aren’t real. But they damn sure FEEL real to her.

Girl keeps feeling uneasy, but she doesn’t want to break up.

Boy only gets upset WHEN she points out his behaviors that hurt her feelings, so she stops bringing them up so much, because she doesn’t like fighting, and the fear of him rejecting her or of being single again somehow outweighs the fear of his behavior hurting her feelings again.

Maybe he’ll change one day, she thinks.

Maybe she talks to her mom about it. “Oh that’s just how men are, honey,” Mom tells her while cleaning up after a weekend family meal while Dad goes to the other room to watch TV. “You see how your father is. He’s a good man. This is life. This is just the way it is.”

It seems a little depressing to Girl. But she’s already invested two or three years in the relationship, all of her girlfriends are getting married, and all of the guys do stuff to upset them once in a while.

I guess this really is just the way life is, she thinks.

Girl marries Boy.

Five to seven years later, they’re miserable because the same behavior that hurt her feelings while dating hurts even more now that he promised to love and care for her forever, but she doesn’t feel loved, nor cared for, nor emotionally safe or secure in any way.

Boy is oblivious.

Girl is stressed to the max.

Girl gets a phone call. Her mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

Girl loses her mother.

Girl breaks because losing a parent can feel impossibly hard. She feels responsible for caring for her father who doesn’t know how to cook and clean for himself. She needs to grieve but it’s hard because there’s no one else around to take care of Life Things.

Girl takes care of Life Things until she finally collapses emotionally.

Boy is absolutely zero comfort. She didn’t know it until right now—but he doesn’t feel steady like her mom did. He can’t comfort her even when he tries.

Girl rejects Boy. Boy feels sorry for himself. One or both of them seek comfort in the arms and privates of someone they’re not married to.

Very bad things happen.

More breakage.

Mid-life misery ensues.

And even though it’s not her fault, it is her responsibility.

This happened because she didn’t enforce her personal boundaries while dating.

Enforce Your Boundaries Vigilantly

I work in marketing.

It’s a complete waste of time and damaging to marketing programs to try to sell products and services to people unlikely to want or need them.

You don’t want to open a fishing bait shop in the middle of the desert. You want to open one by waters used for fishing.

You don’t want to sell “Make America Great Again” hats at Hillary Clinton political rallies. You want to sell them to fans of her political rival.

For marketing programs to succeed, we must target customers intelligently.

And so it goes in dating.

I’ve written repeatedly that I think people should vigilantly enforce their boundaries while dating.

That doesn’t mean you cut somebody off the first time they upset you. No one would EVER stay together if that was the case.

But what if Girl made different choices in the above example? What if, when Boy started exhibiting behaviors she was uncomfortable with, she simply communicated that to him?

What if she said: “Hey. I really care about you and want to see where this can go, but you need to know that I felt really crappy when X happened earlier. Maybe I’m misunderstanding, or getting something wrong. But I have plenty of things in Life that hurt and will hurt me in the future. The person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with WILL NOT be one of them if I can do anything about it. I just want you to know that what happened crosses a hardline boundary with me”?

One of three things happen afterward.

  1. He can act like he usually does and try to explain to her how she’s wrong and her feelings are stupid, and then she can walk away toward a future where she gives someone else a shot to demonstrate actual love and respect.
  2. He can promise to try harder and fail. She avoids a sad divorce later.
  3. He can promise to try harder and succeed. They have a healthy marriage.

When people enforce their boundaries vigilantly while dating, ONLY people with a high probability for success will ever end up exchanging wedding vows with one another.

Will there be a shit-ton more break-ups? Absolutely. But explain to me what the problem is. If all of the people destined for divorce or shitty marriages don’t end up getting married, how does that make the world a worse place?

Exchanging Vows is Something Else

In the ideal scenario where everyone is making good Life choices, two assholes incapable of healthy marriage don’t end up marrying each other in the first place.

That means boundary enforcement during marriage rarely rises to the level of causing divorce. Two people vigilantly enforcing their dating boundaries are WELL PREPARED for the kinds of unselfishness and communication necessary to thrive.

But we don’t live in an ideal world. And no one owns a kick-ass DeLorean time machine. And that means many of us find ourselves in shitty relationships where the criteria for being willing to walk away from the relationship can’t be the same as that of the unattached dater with options.

There’s a fundamental difference between two people who are dating, and two people who are married.

When you’re dating, you can dump someone over something petty like how loud they chew their food, or the fact that they root for a sports team you hate. When you’re dating, you’re allowed to have any personal boundaries you want. It does NOT matter what someone else thinks is reasonable. You are not beholden to anyone.

You are free to create or eliminate any boundary you want, for any reason, at any time.

The important thing is that when someone crosses your line and inflicts pain, that when they KNOW they did, they exhibit remorse and a desire to avoid causing future pain.

If they dismiss what you’re saying and feeling, indicating this shitty thing will continue to happen over and over again? We should walk away.

Our marriage boundaries shouldn’t be superficial.

And our vigilance should be limited to major vow-breaking violations, and not just a fight over what to put on the TV that night or whether you’re going to attend the family get-together next weekend.

And that’s because when we get married, we vow—VOW—to love generously. Forever.

We promise to sacrifice. To give more than we take. To forgive. To lift up the other when they’ve fallen. To choose love each and every day regardless of how inconvenient it might feel.

That’s what it means when we say “I do.”

Our marriages are shit today because the younger, dumber versions of ourselves didn’t know what we didn’t know. And now we have some hard choices to make. Choose to love, even though it isn’t easy? Or divorce, even though it isn’t easy?

Life is HARD.

Not easy.

And there are no judgments here. People need to do what they need to do. People need to make mistakes and figure things out. That’s how human beings learned that fire and water—two amazing, life-giving things—can also kill us.

Marriages rooted in poor boundary enforcement will be difficult and dysfunctional. Most will fail.

But the conversation about boundary enforcement changes between people who are dating and people who are married.

We enforce boundaries while dating IN ORDER TO achieve a healthy and successful relationship.

And in marriage?

We love hard. Not because we feel like it every day. Because we choose it every day.

We choose it today. And then tomorrow. And then the next day.

And when our partners do the same in return, Forever happens.

Rarely easy.

Often worth it.

73 thoughts on “The Magic of Boundaries: Date Well, Marry the Right Person, and Love Hard Forever”

  1. It’s a good post, Matt. Boundaries are important. However, a couple of problems come to mind. We’re living in this convoluted culture that is conflict avoiding, prone to take offense over absolutely everything, and quick to walk away. Look at social media, I disagree with you so now I’m going to unfriend and block you. Boyfriend doesn’t live up to your standard, dump him. Husband, divorce him. So choosing to love in any situation requires some emotional maturity. It is far too common for people to simply reject others under the guise of enforcing their own boundaries, when in fact what they really are is conflict avoidant and self absorbed.

    1. I’m still okay with that kind of person not getting married and having children with someone they will inevitably have a failed relationship with.

      My goal: More healthy marriage, Less divorce

      I’ll take it any way I can get it.

      Even if shallow, conflict-avoidant people accidentally help the cause.

      1. What if instead, we taught the emotionally immature how to have healthy relationships? What if we stopped promoting this culture of victimization where people actually learn how to be perpetually offended and probed to emotionalism? Because whether the get married or not, they are part of our world.

        1. I dream of a future where these types of conversations happen on a more mainstream and formal-education level.

          I think we should be responsibily teaching children (and whoever) how to have healthy relationships.

          Not much else matters when our lives are wrecked at home and we feel abandoned by those we rely on.

          I’ll do anything I can to help that cause.

          Meanwhile, the more people realize how most of the bad things that happen to them in their relationships happen because of their actions or lack thereof, I feel like the more emotionally healthy they’re become.

          Emotionally healthy people quite naturally have good relationships and model for others how to do so.

          It’s a nice thing.

        2. unless your talking about men being weird when they are told to adult by their wives? That’s emotionalism and pity!

        3. What if we did both – educate our children how to be emotionally mature and healthy so they can approach relationships that way – AND encourage those that are not to NOT have trainwreck marriages?

  2. Great take on this Matt. We are a disposable relationship society, o just touched on this in my blog O’ Future Partner…..we need to have the difficult conversations with each other not just the easy ones and we need to stop expecting our partners to be mind readers and live off assumptions

  3. zentrifiedlawyermom

    I needed to read this today. Great simple break down and reminder of how essential boundaries are, and what enforcing them looks like. Thank you!

  4. I love you. With this posting you have taken a disjointed bubbling mass of words out of my head and (after throwing out a few jumbles and snarls) put them exactly in an order I’ve been needing for a friend (really a friend, not me by another name) who’s in a hard place.There sure are days I wish I were less art and more wordsmith. Thank you.

    1. *tips cap*

      You’re very welcome. Thank you for thinking it was meaningful enough to share with someone close to you. That means a lot.

  5. But how does the man avoid being a slob? It should not always be on the woman to keep the man present and caring.

    1. So now you have a boundary.

      When a man is a slob, or isn’t present, or does not demonstrate caring, you don’t date him.

      You say those things out loud. You make it clear every day of your life that those things are true.

      And when a man, fully understanding your intolerance for slobs, or doing whatever he does that isn’t present or caring, behaves that way?

      You leave.

      Having boundaries means when someone upsets you by doing something they KNOW upsets you, you in turn remove them from your life.

      Until we do so, people will continue to accidentally or intentionally make our lives crappy.

      1. Thank you for responding, good advice, I have used it in my friendship life, but rarely do men encourage woman to ditch ineffective and abusive and childish men

  6. A-freaking-men. Know thyself, and know thy partner before getting entangled. People show you who they are, don’t expect them to change when you partner or marry. Someone once told me, “You can’t marry potential.” You can’t really date “potential”, either. Be the best You. While dating, keep your blinders OFF to not ignore traits you might find generally displeasing. When I dated wasband (he was my husband), I had big, whopping blinders on and eight years later had to remove them just to see my way out the door. My fault, yes. He wasn’t perfect by any means, but the signs were ALL there. I just ignored them or believed I could manage them.

    Haven’t done that since. 🙂

    1. You just said “wasband.”

      That would be ridiculously awesome and clever if I didn’t find the subject of divorce so sad and frustrating.



  7. A few thoughts.

    1). Mark Manson’s point about “does your relationship go from horrible to perfect with no in-between” is an even bigger red flag than most people realize. That kind of dynamic is one of the common symptoms of BPD (borderline personality disorder). And most borderlines are incapable of sustaining a long-term healthy relationship…and are not uncommonly flat-out dangerous to their romantic partner (as well as others in their life). Stay away from them.

    Most – about 75% – of bordelines are female, but that still leaves a fair number of men out there too. Everyone in the dating market should have the symptoms of BPD memorized and should run as fast as they can if they notice them in a date. Parents should teach their children this when they reach dating age.

    2). Matt’s description of the dating stage seems to imply cohabitation (talks about meal planning, domestic housework duties, etc). I would strongly recommend against this! There is data to show that couples who don’t cohabitate have more successful marriages. Not to even mention the moral objections. Furthermore, one year of dating should be sufficient to know if this is the person for you to marry. Young women especially should enforce the “one year of dating maximum before a ring is given and a date is set” rule.

    Otherwise, commitment-shy men can keep them off the marriage market for years when their MMV is highest, and then bail and move on to the next one. This is the female’s fault for allowing this. She shouldn’t be pushy or demanding that he marry her (I’ve dated this kind, it’s no fun), she should just let him know her rule about one year of dating, max. After that, it’s up to him to fish or cut bait. They either get formally engaged and set a wedding date, or they break up. It’s up to the girl to ensure that he doesn’t get the benefits of marriage without also taking on the responsibilities and commitment.

    3). Matt’s discussion of what the boundaries should be in dating and then in marriage was interesting. Here’s where I would highly recommend the book “Marry Him – the case for settling for Mr. Good Enough” by Lori Gottlieb. It’s the kind of book you can’t put down till you finish it. Gottlieb, like a lot of women, had a problem with boundaries (aka deal breakers) – namely, she had way too many of them! And it kept her from marrying a decent man who would have probably made a good husband, until she found herself single and pushing 40. The book is about her struggle to change herself, and the research she does about the dating process.

    In the end, her dating coach tells her she’s allowed to have 5 deal breakers, that’s it. (She previously had about fifty!) And she has to promise to go on at least one date with ANY guy interested in her, if he doesn’t trigger one of those 5 deal breakers…even if she’s not thrilled or excited to go out with the guy. The book chronicles her progress and you can see her maturing. Again, highly recommended.

    So have boundaries/deal breakers, by all means. They are necessary. Just make sure you don’t have TOO many and the few you do have are not superficial, but fundamental. Otherwise, you may price yourself right out of the marriage market, like Lori Gottlieb did. (And when she finally gets realistic, she realizes she’ll have to do a lot more “settling” than if she had had her epiphany 10 years earlier – her MMV has fallen quite drastically in the meantime, as to be expected).

    Mostly, the boundaries should relate to shared values.

    1. Jeff,
      Re: cohabitating – I don’t think the issue of living together before marriage has come up yet here, which is kinda surprising because, as you mentioned, couples that cohabitate before marriage are something like TWICE as likely to divorce than couples who don’t. I’ve often wondered why that would be – what is it about living together that makes it more likely you’ll end up divorced?

      My husband and I bucked the trend and did not live together before marriage. That was one of MY boundaries, based on my values. I’m not saying it’s the magic formula for marriage success or the reason that we’re still married, but I have to ask myself – if one is really serious about being married and staying married, why would you choose to live together knowing it puts your long-term relationship at an immediate disadvantage? I’ve come to terms with the fact that most couples don’t see it that way, but I still seriously question the wisdom of it.

      1. This is super off-the-cuff and not thought out. But I don’t think co-habitating before marriage is the reason those couples divorce at twice the rate of people who wait.

        I think the kind of people who take marriage so seriously that they wait and put values and principle before convenience demonstrate the mindfulness and discipline to succeed.

        And I think the kind of people likely to divorce are less thoughtful and more impulsive.

        I’m only guessing, obviously.

        But it’s one of those things that “feels” true.

        1. My parents lived together for like, ten years before they married, still married.
          It depends strictly on the people who are in the relationship

      2. I saw some numbers that showed the determning factor wasn’t actually whether or not couples cohabitated before marriage. The determening factor was the age that you started doing one or the other.

        So if you got married or cohabitated before the age of 23 (that was the magical age, statistically speaking), that increased your likelihood of later breaking up/divorcing. My reasoning is that since the data showed a link between cohabitation and later divorce (but that later turned out to be about age and not whether people were married or unmarried), more people chose to cohabitate before the age of 23 than people chose to get married before the age of 23.

        Statistics are sneaky things. Who knows if there’s a deeper layer that will reveal something else (like, it’s not the age, it’s the age coupled with whether or not you had divorced parents, too much adrenaline in your system or whatever else).

          1. lol, tell that to the guy I knew who basically, if he had his way, we would’ve shacked up in a month? and the situation is still stable
            r u the purity police?

        1. Thanks Donkey, that makes a lot of sense. I’ve long wondered about the “why”. The article didn’t explicitly say, but does this mean that when you factor out age, the divorce rates between the two groups become equalized? Just curious…

          1. “The article didn’t explicitly say, but does this mean that when you factor out age, the divorce rates between the two groups become equalized?”

            Yeah, that’s how I understood it at least (if I’m understanding you correctly Anita, hehe). If you get married or start cohabitating after the age of 23, the divorce rates between the two groups are equal. Doesn’t matter whether or not you cohabitated first. It matters whether or not you moved in with someone or married them before you were 23 (statistically speaking).

            But of course, people can have all sorts of psychological or religious reasons why they want to do one or the other.

            I too must object to the phrasing “shacking up is just plain trashy”. Let’s not judge other people’s life choices that way.

          2. “I too must object to the phrasing “shacking up is just plain trashy”. Let’s not judge other people’s life choices that way”

            You do you.

        2. Hi Donkey,

          I was waiting for the opportunity to start some discussion on age-related decision-making. Thanks for the opening LOL.

          According to studies made at the McLean Hospital Brain Imaging Center, Boston, Massachusetts ,”when processing emotions, adults have greater activity in their frontal lobes than do teenagers. Adults also have lower activity in their amygdala than teenagers. In fact,as teenagers age into adulthood, the overall focus of brain activity seems to shift from the amygdala to the frontal lobes.” The frontal lobes of the brain have been implicated IN BEHAVIORAL INHIBITION, the ability to control emotions and impulses.”

          “The results from the McLean study suggest that while adults can use rational decision making processes when facing emotional decisions, adolescent brains are simply not yet equipped to think through things in the same way

          “Jay Giedd and his colleagues at the National Institutes of Mental Health(NIMH) have reached similar conclusions using a brain imaging technique that looks at BRAIN STRUCTURE RATHER THAN ACTIVITY.

          “GIEDD”S results suggest that development in the frontal lobe continues throughout adolescence AND WELL INTO THE EARLY TWENTIES.

          Could our brains, still in the process of maturing, even WELL INTO THE EARLY TWENTIES be partly responsible for decisions that are not in our best interest.?

          In many places we decide that 18 years is the legal age of maturity, at that age we allow our children to consume alcohol, join the military, MARRY and/ or COHABITATE engage in consensual sex, etc., etc. etc.

          1. Word! I’ve seen different numbers, but I think one of them showed that our brains aren’t fully developed until we’re 25?! And that’s just the physical aspect. Then there’s the wisdom…

          2. We have seen huge changes in behavior that have been part of our cultural heritage for a hundred years. The “customs” surrounding dating and the “traditions” regarding marriage have undergone substantive revisions in the last forty years.

            I would argue that some have been positive, some negative, yet our WISDOM regarding how to teach what will lead to healthy relationships and to long-lasting and happy marriages is not yet part of popular culture. It seems as though those possessing a large measure of frontal lobe capacity won’t/ don’t supply the needed leadership or can’t reach the younger population still under the sway of the amygdala.

            Too many of our communities seem unwilling to fully engage in the tasks that would lift us out of the morass that leads to divorce and fractured relationships. I don’t know why. Matt has often alluded to this problem. Substantive change is possible.
            Why can’t we make it happen?

          3. Marilyn Sims, as of now I have these thoughts:

            We can’t make it happen, because enough people haven’t made it happen for themselves to reach a critical mass, so to speak. Which shouldn’t be necessary to have good, decent relationships, but which sadly do seem to be necessary. We haven’t fully grieved our wounds, we haven’t been willing to be honest about the behaviour we allow in our lives, we haven’t wanted to admit to our priviliges, to our own selfishness. Various combinations of these.

            Change is hard for everyone. Admitting to ourselves that we’ve been assholes or wrong on a very profound level is hard. Admitting that the people whose love we’ve come to define ourselves by don’t treat us with basic respect is hard. Facing our own pain is hard.

            It seems like individuals don’t really change until they hit rock bottom. Seems like the same is true on a societal Level?

          4. Donkey,

            It wasn’t until I started attending Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings many years ago that I began to piece together the nature of my family’s insanity. Part of the learning was hearing about “hitting rock bottom” and the destructiveness of living in a state of constant denial.

            It has been hard to live outside the “box” that was my family’s dysfunction and at some point when I realized that there were millions of us traumatized children growing up in similar circumstances that I understood how many of us were living lives avoiding pain. Yet I never was willing to admit to the immensity of the problem. Could a whole society be traumatized? There were times when I suspected that our society was a lot more damaged than anyone was talking about.
            But, I shrugged my shoulders and got on with living my challenging life.

            So now I hear you talk about grieving our wounds, admitting that we haven’t been willing to be honest about the behavior we allow in our lives, admitting that the people whose love we’ve come to define ourselves by don’t treat us with basic respect, facing our own pain… and WOW! It’s hearing ADCA wisdom all over again.

            Thanks so much for reminding me. I believe that at some point our society’s pain will become the catalyst for substantive change. However I don’t think it will be soon or without turmoil.

          5. Marilyn, I feel a kinship with you.

            Would you be interested in joining the Facebookgroup? If nothing else, you and Icould “meet” there. 🙂 You can go to Matt’s facebook page and click Lindsey’s name, she’ll let you into the group.

            It’s totally fine if you don’t want to for whatever reason, I’ll still like you and want to chat with you here. 😉

          6. Donkey,

            I am so appreciative of the offer and pleased that there is a feeling of connection developing between us — and yes I would like to join you and Lindsey on the Facebook page. I have been hesitant to join because I was married for a very short time and I did not feel I had much to offer in the way of experience or wisdom.

            I am comfortable with the format here, so I will stumble my way into the world of Facebook in the next few days. See you there!

      3. What Matt says makes sense.

        Plus, in my case my wife (then gf) was living at home with her parents while we dated and there was no way they (esp her mom) would be OK with her moving in with me. In fact, I never kept her out overnight the whole time we dated, unless we were at someone’s house who could chaperone (like my mom).

        One really nice side effect of this was that when we did get married, it felt really cool and fun and exciting to move her into my house. Like really starting our life together…and really made getting married seem like a big deal.

        So for all these reasons, plus the moral case, plus the marriage succes rates, I wouldn’t advise people (esp young people) to cohabitate before marriage.

        P.S. Remember Dr. Laura Schlessinger? When someone would call up her radio program and say “I’m living with my boyfriend”, Dr. Laura would correct her by saying “No sweetie, married people live together. You and your boyfriend are shacking up.” lol

        1. I’m just kinda reflecting back on my reasons for not wanting to live together before marriage, and I admit that at least part of the reason I didn’t was because I didn’t want to offend my parents. My brother and his gf lived together and even though they didn’t say anything negative, I could see how difficult it was for them. So, amongst my reasons, was the desire to not hurt my folks. But thinking back, the biggie for me was I respected myself too much to let somebody have a trial run at my potential expense. Anybody can say “Oh, you’re the one, baby!” Yeah? Prove it. Make it legal, dude. Sign the contract. Show me in a meaningful way that I AM the one.

          I don’t know *shrugs* maybe I’m just a hardass. ?

        2. “I don’t know *shrugs* maybe I’m just a hardass.”

          I don’t think so. Just sounds like common sense to me. Good for you, and well played. ?

        3. Jeff Strand said, “P.S. Remember Dr. Laura Schlessinger? When someone would call up her radio program and say ‘I’m living with my boyfriend’, Dr. Laura would correct her by saying ‘No sweetie, married people live together. You and your boyfriend are shacking up.’ lol”

          I can only assume that’d be the same Laura Schlessinger who had an affair with a married man during her divorce and let him take pictures of her naked. A confusing pick to represent a clean moral authority over those who are allegedly “plain trashy”.

          1. I thought her quote was funny. Try growing a sense of humor some day.

            P.S. It’s also the same Dr. Laura who landed a deal for a daytime T.V. talk show, but the politically correct thought-police crucified her and got the network to revoke the deal. Why? Because Dr. Laura dared to say that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered and is morally wrong. So much for the “tolerance” of the Left.

          2. Yes, let’s compare the Left’s singlular intolerance of intolerance to the multitudinous intolerances afflicting the Right. A David and Goliath situation, if ever there was one.

  8. We (my current, and probably final, S.O.) did not have the benefit of one-year dating as we were, until one month ago. long-distance. We did that, the LD thing, exclusively, for almost three and a half years. He’s 54, I’m 52, so maybe it’s different when you’ve been around the block once or thrice. I knew I liked him, but it took me a couple years, given the sparse in-person’ing, to know if I liked him enough to move where he is.

    I moved just four weeks ago, cohabiting without marriage. We’ve both been married and, at this age, we hope to be good ‘catch’ spotters and keepers.

    1. Yes, I would agree that the dynamics are very different when you have divorcee’s or widows/widowers coming together to marry later in their life (50s and 60s). They are not going to be having children, may not even have sex (or very rarely), will need some kind of pre-nuptial financial agreement to protect the inheritance interest of their own children from the prior marriage, etc. Basically, it’s about coming together for companionship at this point, and to pool limited resources. All in all, a good idea.

      However, the one big risk you take at that stage of the game (esp women) is that your new partner may have a health crisis, and you are on the hook to become the primary caregiver. This is why my mom, widowed in her 60s, never had any interest in remarrying.

      A girlfriend of hers, also windowed at that age, choose the other path and remarried. And what I warned about happened – they had only been married a year when he had a health crisis. He then lingered for some years, in which time she basically became his nurse (hey, she took vows “till death do us part”). It was exhausting for her.

      Now, it’s one thing to take on that kind of responsibility for the man you were married to most all of your adult life, and raised children with. But this was just supposed to be about companionship for the two of them, and they had only been married a year!

      Now you and your partner are significantly younger, so maybe not as much a concern for you. But it is something for folks to think about.

    2. And regarding the timeline of one year I mentioned…

      Yes, this also mainly applies to the younger set – think women in their 20’s. At this age, they are in their prime and are at their peak of MMV. It only goes down from there. So here is where she should lock down the best quality husband her MMV allows her to “pull”. Waiting until her MMV has fallen lower is foolish, and would be comparable to refusing to sell a stock at its high..and setting a sell point at a lower price. Why would anyone do that? Of course you want the best possible price for the stock you’re selling. Same concept here.

      I’m constantly amazed when I hear young ladies in their 20’s to early 30’s talk about being back in the dating/marriage market..after being in a serious relationship for like 5 years that didn’t lead to marriage!! What is wrong with these women? How can they let a guy tie them up for 5 years when they are at their peak value in the marriage market? How do they fall for this, time and again? I’m at a loss.

      Btw, the 1 year till engagement rule I laid out should be understood as the MAXIMUM time. It may not even be that long. Although there obviously does need to be a minimum, as you don’t want to marry a stranger.

      My own advice for a couple dating seriously (i.e., both at a stage in life where they can consider marriage, dating exclusively to each other, meeting each other’s family, dating multiple times per week, etc) would be to not even allow themselves to THINK about marriage for the first 3 months. Just enjoy each other and get to know each other. From 3 months to the 6 month point, each can be thinking about marriage (sizing the other up, specifically if they would make a good spouse) and every now and then mention long term plans (children? desired city to live in? etc.) but while keeping it pretty general and not using any pressure.

      Then if all that checks out, a marriage proposal is appropriate anywhere from the 6 month point to the 12 month point. And as I said earlier, past 12 months the young lady needs an answer from him or be ready to move on (assuming they have been dating seriously for that whole preceding 12 months, this should be plenty of time). And “an answer from him” isn’t a vague promise to marry at some point in the future – it means a formal proposal with a ring, and a specific date set so “save the date” notices can be sent out. If he doesn’t provide this, he’s not serious and is just tying to string her along some more. And she musn’t fall for any suggestions he lays out for living together – if he wants the milk, he has to buy the cow.

      Looking back, that’s pretty much the schedule that worked out with me and my wife. We dated seriously for about 7 or 8 months, then got engaged and got married about 6 months later (which is about as fast as you can arrange a big, fancy church wedding and reception with all the goodies). So about 14 months total from the day we met to the altar.

      And I was actually prepared to propose to her a month or so earlier, but briefly found myself unemployed so i put it off. Maybe it’s just me, but I wasn’t comfortable asking her to marry me and promising to provide for her while I was unemployed, lol.

  9. Matt – I’m glad you wrote this and that I read it but it leaves me feeling more sad than anything else. It leaves me feeling there wasn’t a way to make my marriage work – the only different solution would have been for me to walk away before he did. I think I need to give it some time and re read it. Maybe I’m missing something. I feel like I did love hard – if not always well. I did keep choosing the relationship. For a while he did too – even if I was not always what he wanted. But then he stopped. And here we are mid divorce. It seems given the depth of the values mismatch we were always going to be here sooner or later.

    Sometimes what we want out of life just isn’t what we think we do. I don’t think he lied about what he wanted. He’d never been a parent – or a husband – it wasn’t what he expected. I’d never been in essence a single mom with three kids (one of whom was supposed to be my husband). It wasn’t what I expected. Aside from the pain it brings my children – us being apart is so much easier than us being together. That is really really hard for me to accept or reconcile with my own values around marriage and divorce.

    1. “It seems given the depth of the values mismatch”

      Were you aware of this before you married? Had you talked about it?

      1. We talked about having children – he said he wanted that. We talked about how important we felt family was and spending time together. He said family was the most important thing to him aside from God. He said having a clean home was very important to him and he thought that was work for both of us – just like keeping the outside of the house was work for both of us. When we dated he would go dancing with me as often as I went to softball game. We went to the theater as well as the races.

        We dated for just about a year when he proposed. We got married six months later. We did not live together before marriage. We had 2 children. Suddenly he was not interested in dancing or theater. He was not interested in helping with dishes or cooking or laundry or bath times or bed times or god forbid diapers and potty training. In fact when I started on baths and bed after the dishes he would disappear out with the guys and not come home until well after I had fallen asleep. Every Thursday through Saturday night. Monday through Wed he was too busy watching TV to help with anything, he worked all day. Except so did I.

        At first I told myself he was just adjusting and give him time. Then I told myself it was just that the kids were young and a lot of men are less interested in really young children. I tried asking for help, for more time with just the two of us, for more family time. I tried begging for all of the above. I tried just changing my expectations but the less I expected the less he did.

        And as Matt has often said – we had the same fight over and over and over. I got exhausted both from carrying all the weight and from having the same conversation (sometimes we talked quietly sometimes we yelled) that never went anywhere. Eventually. I went beyond exhausted to depressed. I stopped trying to fix things and worked on just enduring them. It got bad enough I wished I could die. I started therapy. Therapy helped me some – but it also made me angry again. Angry that I could be that bad off and he still would not listen or help. Heck – he never even noticed my depression. He noticed the anger though. He didn’t like it so he got a girlfriend and told me to get out or else.

        I knew things were not good but I honestly had no idea it was coming when it hit. I thought we were going through a rough patch. That even if he had found that kids and family life were not quite what he had expected that the faith in God and belief in working things out vs divorce was still real. That we would find a way. That I would work through the anger just as I had the depression. That he would become more interested in the kids as they got older. That I would keep choosing him and he would keep choosing me.

        Now that we are seperated I live a lot like I did when we were together – I take care of all the housework in my home, I pay all the bills, I spend time with my kids doing things we all like or things they want to do or helping with homework. I read, I knit, I listen to music. The kids and I go to church and attend church sponsored events. I do some volunteer work. Sometimes I paint or go out with girlfriends on weekends he has the kids. Sometimes I just putter around the house.

        He lives like he was (at the end) too – he goes out with friends partying and drinking to excess and often drinking and driving. Even the 2 weekends when he has the kids he will often leave them with his mom so he can go out or ignore them in favor of the TV while they entertain themselves. He does not take care of the house or yard. He eats take out and junk foods pretty much exclusively. We live in a small town so I hear things – I know he is not being responsible with money any more than he is with the kids or the house. He no longer attends church. He always seems negative and mean spirited – even in his humor. He seems like a completely different person. I can’t even find traces of the man I loved. I don’t know if it is him changing that much or if I just never really knew him as well as I thought.

        I know it sounds like I am saying he is a bad person. I don’t think he is bad so much as just, I don’t know, maybe deluded right now. Temporarily insane? A 40 something old man can’t live like an 18 year old indefinitely. It all has to come crashing down at some point. He’s just not the person I dated and married anymore, He’s not one I would chose to marry or even date if I met him for the first time now. And I can’t quite figure out how it happened.

  10. I was one of those that rolled over to avoid the fights thinking that if I just did more it would make things better. I was young and dumb when we got married and I believed that things would get better, that we would grow together. After 26 years of marriage I’m starting to realize that i need to at least value myself enough. How do I start to set boundaries after failing at it for so long?

    1. I’m no doctor.

      I only know our behaviors are mostly a collection of habits, and that it’s possible to form new ones.

      It is never too late to get to make tomorrow better than yesterday.

    2. Theresa – for me, it took a lot. It took more than saying I wasn’t happy. It took more than begging to go to counseling. It took me filing for divorce. Unfortunately, at that point I had enough resentment to poison a small army, so it was too late.

      If you think you’d be happier without him, he needs to hear that LOUD AND CLEAR while you still give a damn. Because if he doesn’t listen until you don’t…well…unacknowledged feelings are in an hourglass that is darn near impossible to flip.

  11. I 90% agree with this post. There is one factor it hasn’t touched on. While dating, people tend to behave in a way to get what they want – the relationship. If their partner enforces boundaries, they may respect them. However, too many people change once they’ve sealed the deal. They expect their live to be all about them again. If you don’t want to consider how your behavior impacts someone else, don’t get married. It takes two generous spirits to make a marriage. If both people become self-absorbed after the ceremony, it will at least fail quickly. If one person still has some generosity, it will probably break both of them before it’s over.

    1. Well, I 100% agree with your comment, Marion, so all that means is I didn’t write this very well, or perhaps you misunderstood my meaning somewhere along the way.

      You’ll find no examples of me touting selfishness and blame-shifting as benefitting relationships!

      As you said. Two generous spirits.

      Two people always willing to give more to the other than they take for themselves.

      1. I read your posts in way that suggests it’s wrong to leave a relationship to a good person once you are married. Loving fiercely, enforcing boundaries, and communicating without blame won’t fix things if one person has lost their generous spirit. Like your friend with the hockey tickets. Yes, I would encourage him to invest more if they were already married, but the most relevant part of that story is she was only focused on getting what she wanted. She never showed any concern about his ability to enjoy hockey. If that’s how she behaved in that situation, I can’t imagine how self-absorbed she would be in hot-button topics such as in-laws, finances, etc. Maybe his next relationship won’t be anymore successful, but his relationship with himself will still be intact. If someone vows to cherish you and instead focuses on getting the most of what they want, that’s betrayal. Healthy relationship skills may make them aware of how they are unintentionally hurting you. There reaches a point where you are betraying yourself by staying though. You can only feel alone and unloved for so long.

        1. I certainly don’t mean to come off that way, Marion.

          I used to be really sensitive about wives leaving good men and taking their children away some or most of the time, only to put herself, those kids, and the good guy she left in the position of dealing with all the post-divorce unpleasantness for the rest of their lives. And that’s under the very BEST of scenarios (which I believe I have). It’s still unpleasant sometimes.

          But a couple of things here contradict one another.

          If you feel alone and unloved, and he KNOWS you feel alone and unloved, yet refuses to do anything about it, he is NOT a good man. Period. He’s an asshole.

          Men who love their wives don’t consider it acceptable that she feels alone and unloved.

          I can’t say it frequently or loudly enough: MOSTLY guys don’t know. His wife can say “I feel alone and unloved” a hundred billion times, and he often doesn’t get it until he gets it.

          For me? I needed to hurt first. I needed to feel what legit emotional trauma felt like. THEN, all the lightbulbs were finally able to go off for me about how things that didn’t seem hurtful to other people could hurt me.

          Hopefully people with better minds than me can figure it out WITHOUT suffering first.

          I really don’t like divorce. Like, REALLY don’t like it.

          And even though many people may not agree with my conclusion, I don’t find it wise or logical in any way to end marriages involving two good people who legitimately love one another and WANT to remain married to one another, but simply lack certain knowledge and awareness to understand how their behaviors and emotions betray themselves and one another in the process.

          I think it’s relevant that Good Men can be Bad Husbands, and that the Good Men should work damn hard at being Good Husbands; but also that maybe the wives could cut the Good Men a little more slack than the Bad Men. For themselves and their children and their friends and their extended families.

          And I believe if the Good Men become Good Husbands, and then their wives feel loved and happy again, and then they achieve Good Marriage, that a bunch of really powerful positives will stem from that.

          In our personal lives, and societally.

          It’s a drum I intend to keep beating.

          1. I certainly don’t think you’re wrong, or even different. I’m still married and loving fiercely. I’m just older. Turning fifty has made me truly realize I’m running out of time. I will focus my energy on the relationships that make me feel loved and appreciated. I will always cherish my husband, but have finally accepted that I can’t MAKE this marriage work. Still hope it will, but that will only happen if he decides to show up. You can’t make someone aware that they are self-absorbed. Communicating your boundaries firmly with compassion is wise. But they may be too self-absorbed to hear you. I’m no longer accepting the responsibility for the emotional labor in any relationship. My new motto is to care for the caregivers. Everyone else will still get my best, but I’m done digging deeper for something better to give people who aren’t examining their own behavior.

      1. Sorry feels more appropriate than hitting the like button. I’m thankful Matt’s created a place where we don’t feel alone.

        1. Thank you, Marion.

          I didn’t create it, though. People like you did by showing up and teaching ME that I wasn’t alone.

          Before that, it was just some idiot typing on his computer.

          Now it’s something else. And it’s because of all of the people reminding others they aren’t alone, and providing hope — either for relationship healing or individual healing.

          Both of which are beautiful.

          I appreciate you being here.

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  15. Any suggested boundaries?? Practically do you think they may be best worked out, discussed, set and agreed together or as singles?

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  17. I needed this today.
    I thought I’ve been going crazy, but you word everything so well, they fit me.

    You’ve made me a little more stronger today.
    Thank you.

    1. Happy to hear that. Most of the stuff we talk about around here would be avoided by paying attention to enforcing boundaries and sharing values.

      Thanks for note.

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